Former Top Gear exec producer Andy Wilman told an audience of industry executives at the Edinburgh TV Festival that his departure last year from the BBC — and that of the show’s principals — was part of “a perfect storm” that had been brewing for some time, and one which might have been avoided. Wilman exited the motoring show in 2015 as longtime friend and series host Jeremy Clarkson’s contract was not renewed after a now infamous fracas with a producer. Co-hosts James May and Richard Hammond followed. In a funny and frank discussion in Edinburgh, Wilman covered the tumult of last year’s Top Gear meltdown and his and the trio’s transition to their new Amazon series The Grand Tour.
Wilman (see video below) said of Top Gear that he and the stars never adjusted to the success of the show which they rebooted in 2002 and which went on to become a global phenomenon. “We were collapsing under the weight.” But, while making clear that he is a fan of the BBC, he allowed, “There were a lot of people who didn’t want us there.”
After Clarkson punched producer Oisin Tymon, and amid the star’s suspension and the media storm that followed, “Everything became personal and confrontational. When everything went to sh*t in March,” Wilman said, “there was no way back because it was going to be a victory for somebody [at the BBC]; it wasn’t going to be a resolution and I think some people didn’t have the will to make it work on the management side.” Of himself, he added, “I didn’t have the maturity.”
But it could have been nipped in the bud, per Wilman. “There should have been a realization. We’d been investigated internally. There was a finding that we had a broken relationship. I think you start from that broken relationship because there’s no point in killing the show. But my point is, we were to blame too.”
The hosting trio, along with Wilman, has since set up shop at Amazon and are prepping The Grand Tour, a new car show under a lucrative deal. Wilman called press reports of £4M per episode “bollocks,” but did allow that it is expensive because everything at Amazon needs to be shot on 4K. He called that a “nightmare” while also praising Amazon for pushing the show’s makers in new directions and for leaving them alone. “Anyone who knows us knows we like” to be left alone, he said.
Top Gear had its fair share of controversies, but Wilman contended the group didn’t set out to break rules. “We liked to make a bit of mischief, but we didn’t sit down and say ‘we’ll make mischief today’.” With The Grand Tour, “We haven’t got a parent to kick, we’ll make our show.”
Of the new Top Gear, which saw host Chris Evans exit after just one low-rated season, Wilman said he hadn’t watched it. “There was a lot of pain for me; it was everything I did.” But, he added, “I would not wish them one second of ill.”
The exec producer didn’t explain too much of the content of The Grand Tour, but riffed on the lawyers brought in to keep them from stepping on Top Gear IP. “You have these meetings where they say, ‘Can James May still say ‘cock’ or will the BBC sue us?’ And James says, ‘Well I’ve always said ‘cock’’.” A clip reel showed Clarkson driving through a Game Of Thrones location; May shooting a rifle out of the rear window of a car; and Hammond waking up in a dune buggy hanging from a helicopter.
The Grand Tour debuts in the fall, although a firm date has not been announced. Speculation in Edinburgh is that the launch will be timed to some of Amazon’s international expansion. “They’re not going to give us a wedge of money and not pump the thing out there… They bought a global show; three guys with global appeal,” Wilman noted.
Check out the full video below: